Christian Persecution

Credit: NBC News

Credit: NBC News

My first awareness of Christian persecution was in the 1951 movie Quo Vadis. Filmed in MGM Technicolor, the movie was based on an 1896 novel of the same title by Henryk Sienkiewicz.

One of my sisters and I saw that movie together. She was 11 and I was eight. We probably had other schoolmates with us, but I don’t recall that detail. The movie featured actors and actresses (that’s what we called female actors in those days) whose names meant nothing to me at the time. The list included Robert Taylor, Deborah Kerr, Peter Ustinov and Sophia Loren.

My primary recollection from that movie is the shock of seeing the portrayal of early Christians defenselessly and brutally attacked by roaring, raging lions in an arena, most likely the Roman Colosseum. That unthinkable act was ordered by Nero, who became Emperor of Rome at age 17 and held that title from 54 to 68 A.D. It was during his rule that Rome burned (64 A.D.) and that the stage was set for the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (70 A.D.).

Christian persecution continues today. According to Open Doors“Serving persecuted Christians worldwide” (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/persecution/about-persecution) “Christians are the most persecuted religious group worldwide. An average of at least 180 Christians around the world are killed each month for their faith.” See End Note below.

At least four thoughts come to mind:

  1. Deep concern and heartfelt prayer for Christians living under persecution.
  2. Thankfulness for the blessing of living in a country relatively free from that scourge.
  3. Encouragement for all who read these words to exercise the privilege and responsibility of electing leaders at every level who take seriously the growing threat of Christian persecution and its undeniable consequences in the world, including our own country.
  4. All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. (Edmund Burke) 

Carpe diem!

End Note (From Open Doors — “Serving persecuted Christians worldwide”)

What is Christian Persecution?

Christian Persecution is any hostility, experienced from the world, as a result of one’s identification with Christ. From verbal harassment to hostile feelings, attitudes and actions, believers in areas with severe religious restrictions pay a heavy price for their faith. Beatings, physical torture, confinement, isolation, rape, severe punishment, imprisonment, slavery, discrimination in education and in employment, and even death are just few examples they experience on the daily basis.

According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population live in areas with severe religious restrictions. Many of these people are Christians. Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in the person of Jesus Christ.

Where Christian Persecution Is Worst

In the United States, it’s easy for believers to take for granted the rights they so regularly enjoy. From praying and worshiping in public to attending Sunday worship services, practice of one’s faith is generally accepted in America.

But this isn’t the case in many nations such as North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, Syria, etc. in which religion, itself, is banned or where one faith system is permitted and touted, with all others being continually denigrated. The persecution is so severe in many localities that Christians are systematically targeted and mistreated because of their religious beliefs. According to The Pew Research Center, The Economist, Christians today are the most persecuted religious group in the world.

A Ranking of 50 Countries Where Christians Are Most Persecuted

  1. North Korea
  2. Somalia
  3. Syria
  4. Iraq
  5. Afghanistan
  6. Saudi Arabia
  7. Maldives
  8. Pakistan
  9. Iran
  10. Yemen
  11. Sudan
  12. Eritrea
  13. Libya
  14. Nigeria
  15. Uzbekistan
  16. Central African Rep.
  17. Ethiopia
  18. Vietnam
  19. Qatar
  20. Turkmenistan
  21. Laos
  22. Egypt
  23. Myanmar (Burma)
  24. Brunei
  25. Colombia
  26. Jordan
  27. Oman
  28. India
  29. Sri Lanka
  30. Tunisia
  31. Bhutan
  32. Algeria
  33. Mali
  34. Palestinian Territories
  35. United Arab Emirates
  36. Mauritania
  37. China
  38. Kuwait
  39. Kazakhstan
  40. Malaysia
  41. Bahrain
  42. Comoros
  43. Kenya
  44. Morocco
  45. Tajikistan
  46. Djibouti
  47. Indonesia
  48. Bangladesh
  49. Tanzania
  50. Niger

Installation Reflections

Church windowInstallations are on my mind these days. This past Sunday I preached for the installation of our new associate pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas. Kevin Hintze will be serving with senior pastor John Davenport and the other wonderful members of our church and school staff. It’s a great team of dedicated servants of the Lord!

Last Monday, September 8, was the 13th anniversary of my initial installation as 12th president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Only three days later the events of 9/11 occurred. It was a difficult time for both our nation and our church body. Our nation rallied against the evil behind the 9/11 attacks. Our church leaders did what leaders do. We led!

While some, mostly pastors, were not pleased, the overwhelming majority of people and pastors in our national church body expressed thanks and support for our public response. As a matter of fact, the LCMS Council of Presidents unanimously adopted a widely read and broadly applauded full page ad in U.S.A. Today. The text of that ad is printed below my signature.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day I was installed to my second term as president of the LCMS. The three years between those two installations were difficult ones. Yet they also provided multiple opportunities for publicly demonstrating the love of Christ for people whose lives were wrecked and ruined by the atrocities of 9/11.

The primary difficulty was not that some disagreed with decisions I had made. It was the vitriolic manner in which their disagreement was expressed. That included personal attacks, name calling, mischaracterization and refusal to acknowledge that my decisions were in accord with the position of the LCMS, expressed in convention resolutions at the 2001 national convention. My decisions were ultimately upheld by those responsible for the system of appeals then in place.

Leaders always disappoint someone. If they’re doing nothing, some think they should be doing something. If they’re doing something, some think they should be doing something else.

Installations are all about the beginning of a relationship between the one being installed and the organization, institution or other entity that has called, hired or otherwise engaged the one being installed. All the installations in my life have been both meaningful and memorable!

A Promise

In the aftermath of this recent tragedy, the 2.6million members of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod express our love, care and concern for the tens of thousands of people whose lives have been drastically altered by the sudden loss of their loved ones and friends.

David, in Psalm 23, looked to God and took comfort in His protecting presence in times of great personal and national distress:

“The Lord is my shepherd…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.”

Jesus, to whom the Scriptures refer as our Good Shepherd, said in the gospel of John words that are particularly powerful at this moment in time:

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”  

That Good Shepherd understands suffering and death. His own death and resurrection give hope to us all. He grants those who trust in Him forgiveness of sin and everlasting life.

In these days of great personal grief and national mourning, our source of comfort, hope and strength is the same as that expressed by St. Paul:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Your friends and neighbors of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod open to you our hearts and our churches in this time of human grief, suffering, fear and uncertainty. We invite you, along with us, to cling to the comfort, hope and strength in God’s promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Nine-Eleven XIII

World Trade Center 4Today is the 13th anniversary of the terrorism in 2001 that ended the lives of over 3,000 innocent Americans at the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and a field in Pennsylvania. That day, now known simply as 9/11, radically changed life in America and the world. A succinct report of 9/11 is at http://www.history.com/topics/9-11-attacks.

The perpetrators were identified as members of al-Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group. Their activity in different parts of the world has ebbed and flowed these past 13 years. Al-Qaeda is not as frequently mentioned today as another emerging and even more violent jihadist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Both groups are demonic. See End Note below.

Many of us recall clearly where we were and what we were doing that Tuesday morning 13 years ago. Not so with others. Today’s university students were barely old enough to remember 9/11. Current elementary and junior high students were not yet on the ground in 2001. Some who in 2001 were already advanced in age have passed away and others have lost those memories.

The original 9/11 was a traumatic day for our nation. More such days may lie ahead. What to do?

  • Pray that God will thwart terrorists in order that such dastardly deeds not reoccur.
  • Vote and pray for leaders who are willing to confront evil of every kind, preferably as part of a multi-national coalition against terrorism, or unilaterally if necessary.
  • Pray for and support our military personnel who serve and sacrifice at great cost.
  • Pray this prayer of Solomon: “If your people go out to battle against their enemy and they pray to the Lord … then hear in heaven their prayer and their plea.” (1 Kings 8:44-45)
  • Remember this truth: “The eternal God is your refuge, and his everlasting arms are under you.” (Deut. 33:27)

May the remembrance of the atrocities of September 11, 2001 move the people and leaders of our nation and world to greater trust in the providence and protection of almighty God and increased determination to work toward living in peace in the face of evil.

Isaiah says it well: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord … that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths…He shall judge between the nations…and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:3-4)

Lord, hasten that day!

God Said No

Credit: clker.com

Credit: clker.com

Here’s something I received this week from a friend. Perhaps it will be helpful to you, especially in times of doubt, difficulty, depression or despair.

I asked God to take away my habit.
God said, “No. It is not for me to take it away, but for you to give it up.”

I asked God to make my handicapped child whole.
God said, “No. His spirit is whole. His body is only temporary.”

I asked God to grant me patience.
God said, “No. Patience is a byproduct of tribulations. It isn’t granted, it is learned.”

I asked God to give me happiness.
God said, “No. I give you blessings. Happiness is up to you.”

I asked God to spare me pain.
God said, “No. Suffering draws you apart from worldly cares and brings you closer to me.”

I asked God to make my spirit grow.
God said, “No. You must grow on your own. But I will prune you to make you fruitful.”

I asked God for all things that I might enjoy life.
God said, “No. I will give you life so that you may enjoy all things.”

I asked God to help me love others, as much as He loves me.
God said, “Aha! Finally you have the idea!”

God bless you abundantly!